TWO years ago Cirencester Town chairman Steve Abbley and his committee talked openly about taking a voluntary step down to the Hellenic League.
The successful property tycoon loves running a football club – “it’s my hobby, my social life and there is no feeling quite like winning a big football match,” he says, -- but he had grown sour of subsidising the players’ wages to the tune of £60,000 a year and cried enough.
A blueprint for self sufficiency was put in place with the emphasis on producing talent from within and two years on the experiment is taking shape nicely.
Next season there will be five Cirencester teams playing in the ultra competitive Junior Premier Leagues.
The U16s are currently challenging Newport (and well ahead of Forest Green Rovers) at the top of the JPL, the Development Team won their division in the Hellenic League and the first team, boosted by a number of home grown youngsters, earned promotion to the Southern Premier as champions with 92 points “Going up is an opportunity we are going to grab with both hands,” said Abbley.
“We will obviously give lots of thought to what approach we are going to take, but one mistake we made in that division last time was not building from the back.
“The strikers are better at each level you climb and it is so important to get your back five right.
“Brian (Hughes) has already done that this season, bringing in the likes of Glyn Garner, Leigh Henry and Chris Holland who had all played at a higher level.
“If we can keep this team together from the goalkeeper forward, I think we will do much better.”
For Abbley it was only his second title as chairman in 19 years, although there have been other promotions along the way.
“We won the Hellenic League while we were still at the old ground in 1996, my second year in charge,” he said. “I have had my wings clipped since then.”
But he is happy to give the credit to his manager – a friend he has known for 35 years and for whom he will be best man later this month.
“All the best friends I have made and kept have been through sport,” insisted Abbley. “I first met Brian in 1979 at Swindon Town when he was a 16-year-old apprentice and I had recently signed as a pro aged 21.
“He left for Torquay and I went on to Cheltenham where we teamed up in ‘84 and have been great mates ever since.
“The most important person in any team is the manager and Brian has as good a record as anyone at this level or even higher.
“He has the great ability to assess what is wrong and what’s needed to put it right. I’m rubbish at that.
“I truly believe all his ambitions in football can be achieved at Cirencester Town.”
The chairman must now turn his mind to finding a new main sponsor for the club with Ssangyong’s successful three-year deal coming to an end.
More immediately there is the champions’ challenge on Saturday against Dunstable, the winners of the Calor League Division One Central and then the first team squad’s four-day jaunt to Magaluf when, coincidentally, they will be staying in the same hotel as the players from Gloucester City FC.
“I’m picking up the tab for that,” said Abbley. “I feel I should after the way the boys have worked their socks off this season – and it will also double up as Brian’s stag do.”
Abbley may even pick up some last-minute titbits for his best man’s speech at Hughes’ wedding on FA Cup Final day, May 17.
Warren Evans, a key member of Brian Hughes’ coaching staff, has left Cirencester Town to become manager at Tuffley Rovers of the Hellenic League.